The Louisiana Children’s Museum has secured the funding for its long-awaited move to City Park, a $45.5 million project expected to be complete by next year.

Officials on Wednesday formally announced that the project’s financing goals had been met, a few weeks after the museum invited construction firms to submit qualifications for the work. Construction is expected to begin later this year.

"What we've created is the first of its kind in America: an Early Learning Village, or an early childhood campus," museum CEO Julia Bland said.

Intended to provide more outdoor space for the thousands of children the museum serves annually, the project has been more than a decade in the making, with discussions between Bland and City Park CEO Bob Becker beginning in 2007. 

An agreement was soon reached to move the museum from its Julia Street space in the Warehouse District to an 8.5-acre location near the New Orleans Museum of Art, but progress on the plan was slow as the museum continued to push for financing.

A combination of private and public dollars, secured over the years in spurts, has since made the concept a reality.

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Designs unveiled Wednesday call for two connected buildings that will sit on about an acre overlooking a lagoon. Inside the 56,000 square feet of space will be five exhibit galleries, a literacy center, a parent/teacher resource center and a cafe’, officials said.

Other highlights include a life-sized interactive chess board that will teach children about New Orleans history, a floating classroom on the lagoon’s edge, and a “Mighty Mississippi” exhibit about the Mississippi River.

The designs were drawn up by Mithun of Seattle with local partner Waggonner & Ball.

Gyroscope, Inc., a California based firm, designed the exhibits.

Through the exhibits and other features, the museum plans to “address global issues, like water and water management… in a way that’s lots of fun,” Bland added.

The project is being financed with at least $7.5 million in state funds, money from the Edward Wisner Donation, and some federal cash. The museum also raised about $17 million in private dollars from more than 300 donors, she said.

Among the major donors touted on Wednesday were Boysie and Joy Bollinger, the Jaeger Foundation and the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation. Officials have also forged partnerships with Tulane Pedatrics, the Tulane Institute of Early Childhood and Mental Health, the LSU AgCenter, Grow Dat Youth Farm and Liberty’s Kitchen, which will all provide on-site programs at the new facility.

More than 225,000 visitors are expected annually -- a notable uptick from the 147,000 people that currently visit the museum each year -- in part due to the more central location.

Barriers that may have blocked many families from coming before, such as the lack parking and the flurry of activity in the Julia Street area, will no longer be at issue at City Park, officials said. 

Praised heavily on Wednesday was Bland herself, who local and state leaders described as a particularly fierce advocate for the completed project. The fact that the museum has been able to secure the state cash it has, in a time of such difficulty in the state’s budget, is a testament to Bland’s willpower, said state Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans.

“To say Julia was bullish with her request would be an understatement,” Morrell said. Mayor Mitch Landrieu later echoed that sentiment, recalling Bland's determination to press on after she was denied for some funding requests. 

State leaders ultimately saw the value of the museum as a learning hub for the state’s youngest children, said state Rep. Walt Leger, another New Orleans Democrat. “The investment of these dollars will come back many fold in years to come,” he said.

The museum will offer a mixture of fee-based and free programs. 


Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.